Francome is backing Reveley to take fight to champion McCoy

JOHN Francome believes there are “10 or 11 jockeys” whose riding abilities are comparable to the record-breaking AP McCoy, and that their accomplishments deserve wider recognition as they take the sport to new levels.

Ryan Mania celebrating on Auroras Encore after winning the John Smith's Grand National
Ryan Mania celebrating on Auroras Encore after winning the John Smith's Grand National

Though the former champion jockey believes McCoy can “ride for as long as he wants” after landing his 4,000th success earlier this month, he says better fitness is taking National Hunt racing to new levels and cites the horsemanship of the under-rated North Yorkshire rider James Reveley.

“I watched James ride a winner in France the other day on Reve de Sivola for Nick Williams – it was his first Grade One win,” Francome told the Yorkshire Post.

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“If AP had ridden it, they would have been going on about it for years.

“Nick Luck would still be screaming about it on Channel Four Racing.

“Yet all he did was mention the horse. It drives AP mad – and it must drive lads like James mad.

“AP can go on for as long as he wants. He has a great supporter in JP McManus and a brilliant agent in Dave Roberts. About 99.9 per cent of his winners, anyone could have ridden on them.

“The difference is that he gives it everything, 110 per cent, seven days a week and that’s why he’s the first person people want on their side.

“But there are 10 or 11 jockeys, you look down the list, who are right up there – including James Reveley. Their commitment, and ability,they are making AP even better and that needs to be acknowledged.

“The depressing thing is they’re not getting the recognition because they’re travelling to meetings for just one ride.

“I think AP McCoy is riding better because he is happier – racing is not dominating every minute of his life and he doesn’t have so much to prove to himself.

“But it is not just about AP.”

Francome is one of an elite number of riders to win over 1,000 races over fences. A widely respected TV pundit before he sethered his ties with Channel Four Racing last year, he was the guest speaker at yesterday’s Go Racing in Yorkshire annual lunch which celebrated the county’s racing champions of 2013.

As expected, Auroras Encore was the runaway winner of the ‘horse of the year’ category after becoming the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the Grand National since Merryman II prevailed in 1960 for Middleham trainer Neville Crump and jockey Gerry Scott who still lives near Masham.

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There was also a special lifetime achievement award to Brandsby’s Peter Beaumont who masterminded the career of several top horses including the 1993 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Jodami, the last Yorkshire-trained winner of steeplechasing’s blue riband contest.

Jodami’s defeat to the French-trained The Fellow in 1994 brought an end to almost two decades of white rose dominance in the Cotswolds thanks to the success of training titans like Peter Easterby and Michael Dickinson.

Beaumont’s other Cheltenham Festival winner was Hussard Collonges, who took the 2002 Royal & Sun Alliance Chase. Other big race winners include JJ Henry, Young Kenny and Bobby Grant.

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But the primary purpose of the celebration, held at Doncaster Racecourse, was to raise awareness about the soon-to-be-constructed Jack Berry House at Malton that will provide specialist care and training for jockeys.

It will aim to replicate the success of Oaksey House in Lambourn that has been transforming the fitness of riders since it was built by the Injured Jockeys Fund in September 2009.

Thanks to the vision of Leeds-born Jack Berry who became a successful trainer in his own right and then a tireless fundraiser for IJF, it will mean injured riders – like Brian Toomey and Danny Cook – will not have to travel more than 200 miles for specialist care and fitness guidance.

“I’ll be disappointed if it’s not open by this time next year,” said Francome who succeeded the late Lord Oaksey as the IJF’s president in November 2012.

“Choc Thornton is the fittest he’s ever been since he started Oaksey House. There are competitions between conditional riders just to build an element of competition.

“When I started out, lads would eat and drink what they wanted, take pee pills and have a drink going to the races.

“I don’t think an Oaksey House in my day would have made a difference to my career – I was as fit as a flea and would hump a few tonnes of gravel before going to Newbury for six rides.

“It’s all about maximising opportunities, and making use of advances in sports medicine, and the feedback from the lads is terrific.

“Jack Berry is an inspiration. To me and to racing. He must be in his 70s now but he has got more energy than most people who are third of his age.

“He was a fantastic trainer and was brilliant for the IJF, organising holidays to Tenerife for injured jockeys and their families and cruises. We could do with a lot more people in the country like him, never mind racing.”